Is Judson Phillips Really a Tea Party Leader?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 6 2010 1:31 PM

Is Judson Phillips Really a Tea Party Leader?

On Google News, I count 225 stories reporting the news that "Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips has written a letter urging Sarah Palin to consider running for RNC chair." This follows the news that Phillips mulled about limiting the vote to property owners. That followed the news that Phillips wanted Keith Ellison out of Congress because he's a Muslim.

The thing about these stories is that what Phillips says is news because he's considered a Tea Party leader. This is strange; it's tough to find active Tea Party leaders who consider Phillips one of the key players. He's been controversial since first staking a claim for movement leadership in 2009, founding Tea Party Nation then organizing a for-profit Tea Party Convention because it seemed like no one else was. He got Sarah Palin to speak at the convention (for a fee), turning it into a media event. He and spokesman Mark Skoda announced a PAC at the convention, and plans for another convention in the summer.

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But the PAC, Ensuring Liberty , vanished without a trace. The second convention was delayed, then cancelled. Phillips did not gain new credibility with Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, and other groups that opted out of Nashville.

"In my opinion Judson Phillips is a profiteering wanna be," said Robin Stublen, founder of the Punta Gorda, Fla. Tea Party. "He is irrelevant."

I checked in with Everett Wilkinson, a South Florida Tea Party leader with whom Stublen rarely agrees. Same answer. "He has a website and radio show," Wilkinson shrugged. "None of the tea party leaders I know follow him. Did you notice that the his last convention was canceled because no one was coming?"

I included Phillips in my Tea Party who's who, published before the election. He runs the group that put on the Tea Party Convention. But it's worth asking where the credibility of a "Tea Party leader" comes from. The status shifts constantly, but it has a lot to do with who plays with the rest of the movement and puts skin in the game in elections and legislative battles. And Phillips does not impress Tea Partiers on any of those levels.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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